Darrell Moseley’s ’40 Mercury Combines Classic Custom Style With Contemporary Mechanical Ingredients
There are some classic recipes that have been well established in the hot rod and custom car cookbook over the past 80-plus years, familiar favorites that get served up time and again. And while each craftsman adds his own seasoning and special flourishes to these time-honored traditions, the dishes rely on sound fundamentals and appealing core ingredients.
Darrell Moseley’s tasty ’40 Mercury is a fantastic example of this concept – a custom crafted from a sweet and smooth recipe that’s been handed down for generations. The original formula can be traced back to 1950, when Nick Matranga had his ’40 Merc customized by the Barris brothers, George and Sam. The Barris shop gave the Merc a much more streamlined profile by chopping the bulbous original top, lowering it significantly so it flowed smoothly toward the deck lid. The top’s shape was further enhanced by eliminating the B-pillar and fabricating thin hardtop-style chrome frames around the door and quarter glass, with a curved divider enhancing the shape of the roof.
The Matranga car made a lasting impression on countless custom fans and the recipe has been followed by many through the years, each adding their own twists. Darrell’s version is one of the latest in that long line. In fact, it’s a car that made Darrell, who is usually more of a hot rod guy, cross over into the custom realm.
“I’ve always wanted a cool custom Merc,” Darrell says. “When I saw this car on Instagram, I knew I had to have it. Chris Casny [the previous owner and builder] showed me a pic of him and Billy Gibbons next to the Merc. Billy wanted to buy the car, but Covid came along and he opted out. The only good thing about Covid – I ended up with the cool Merc!”
As Darrell said, Chris had already built the ’40 Mercury into a stunning and smooth custom, a process documented online on the Jalopy Journal’s HAMB message board and on social media. He followed most of the time-honored treatments used on custom ’40 Mercs through the decades. “It’s kind of hard to do anything new to these cars since the bar was set so high when the Barris shop built Matranga’s car,” Chris wrote on the HAMB.
The key ingredient Chris incorporated was the chopped top, which was sliced a healthy 6-inches in front and 8-inches in the rear, with the B-pillar removed in favor of hardtop-style side glass and a curved divider. The top defined the car’s custom appearance, but Chris enhanced the flavor further with ’38 Ford headlights, ’41 Studebaker taillights, shaved door handles and hood ornament, and Foxcraft teardrop-style fender skirts. Modified ’36 Buick bumpers finished off the front and rear, while the body was bathed in classic black House of Kolor paint.
Chris followed an old-school recipe for most of the build, using a dropped front axle and reversed-eye spring to lower the front, parallel leaf springs, lowering blocks, and a C-notch in back, and 16-inch wheels with wide whitewalls and Hollywood single-bar flipper hubcaps. He finished the interior in white rolls and pleats and used a slightly more contemporary small-block Chevy V8 and TH350 automatic for power.
The Merc was completed in its initial custom form in late 2018 and Chris enjoyed cruising it for a couple of years before putting it up on the market. After making the purchase from Chris, Darrell quickly determined that he loved the classic look of the chopped custom but was less fond of the old-school beam-axle road manners and the limitations of a three-speed automatic transmission. So, he set out to add a few fresh ingredients of his own – namely, some under-car updating to enhance the driving experience.
Darrell enlisted Hale’s Speed Shop to swap a Mustang II-style independent front suspension in place of the beam-style front axle, giving the Merc a more contemporary ride and rack-and-pinion steering. To double down on the modern seasonings, the team at Hale’s also pulled out the small-block V8 and swapped in a Chevrolet Performance LS3 crate engine topped with Holley fuel injection and backed by a 4L60E overdrive automatic transmission. Miller Muffler built the custom exhaust that lends a classic rumble to the modern powertrain.
The same approach was used inside, where Wayne Davis Restorations stitched fresh upholstery in maroon leather with white rolled and pleated inserts. A Vintage Air system also found its way behind the dash, which still wears restored original gauges and Wimbledon White paint. A ’50 Mercury accessory steering wheel is mounted atop a chrome LimeWorks column.
Though he didn’t change any of the custom body mods, Darrell did have the exterior freshened up by respraying areas that were showing wear and road use. He also swapped the bias ply rubber for a set of Auburn wide whitewall radials from Diamond Back Classic.
Darrell’s enhancements achieved exactly what he hoped they would. They made the ’40 Mercury a more comfortable, powerful, and reliable driver that has already rewarded he and wife Lisa with comfortable road trips to the Gathering at the Roc in Oklahoma and to Jackson Hole, Wyoming with fellow car friends. And since all the newer parts are hidden, they don’t diminish the classic custom appearance. In other words, the fresh ingredients Darrell added might have altered the flavor a little, but this smooth Merc is just as tasty as ever.
Photos by John Jackson & Damon Lee